Seth wrote a great post a few days ago about how, well, stupid and unfair it was of SI to publish reports of A-Rod testing positive for steroids in ’03 at the exact moment where it would get the maximum airplay. I have never been a fan of SI. I find its articles stilted and hard to read. But I understand the demands of the journalism business, and have to respectfully disagree with Seth. I know that if you have four (FOUR!) sources for a bit of “secret” information, that means that there are likely other publications that have the same or equally good sources. The sheer number of independent sources also makes it more likely that the editors aren’t putting their necks into a noose by publishing. I don’t know SI’s timeline for publication of this information, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. By and large, I find that newspapers and magazines, while they have their problems, do have strong journalistic ethics.
So I disagree that SI should be condemned for publishing the A-Rod rumors. But then again, I really couldn’t care less about what players do to get to where they are, unless they are breaking an established rule that has consequences. Let’s face it, MLB’s steroids policy from 1993 to 2003 was a joke. It essentially says, “Okay, don’t do steroids, but if you do, there aren’t any consequences, since we can’t blacklist you or punish you because the union would own our nice new offices and stadiums in court if we did.” I’ll be honest. If I was either a young up-and-comer looking to make a name for myself or a slightly over-the-hill player looking to keep the magic going for a couple more years,* I might have been willing to try steroids to get to the top of the league. It is the same as the stimulents and amphetamines that people used in the 50′s, 60′s, and 70′s to get ahead. How many of those people are now in the Hall of Fame? What about the athletes now? Michael Cuddyer uses a weird orthodontic appliance which supposedly helps him concentrate on hitting. What if people find that to be “performance-enhancing” down the road? What about LASIK (who on the Twins hasn’t had LASIK these days)?
*Yes, I am ripping off Posnanski’s asterisk-driven interjection system. Consider it imitation-as-flattery. I love MLB network. I “watch” it for hours whilst I am doing Civil Rights or Corporations homework. Last night it was a marathon of high-strikeout games (it was essentially the Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson show). In one of the games, they showed Mark McGuire hit a 104-mph fastball from the Unit 534 feet into the upper upper deck of the Kingdome. Let me repeat that. Mark McGuire. Hit a pitch. That was going 104 miles per hour. Not kilometers. Miles. That’s faster than most people will ever drive a car in their lives. It is faster than the takeoff speeds of some airplanes.Literally, if you blink, you missed it. McGuire hit it very nearly the length of two football fields. In a pitcher’s park. Against arguably the best strikeout pitcher and the most imposing pitcher of that generation. Dear LORD. I can’t run that far without having to stop and gasp for air.
There’s a level of “be-all-that-you-can-be” that fans should EXPECT of players. Should Mark McGuire have given up on his extraordinary career and softly into the night rather than becoming a sublime player? I can’t honestly say that he should have. Should Barry Bonds have given up his chase to pass the all-time home run record? No, I can’t say he should have. Should he have allegedly lied about it under oath about it?* Hell no. Whatever comes of this indictment, its his own damn fault. Does he deserve an asterisk on his record? I would say no. We don’t know exactly how long he had been using steroids. There is just too much unknown about his case.
*Fun and true story. One of my good friends in undergraduate worked as an intern for an area newspaper. He deeply enjoyed his internship, but it really opened his eyes to how little freedom of the press there actually is. Sure, the government can’t stop the newspaper from publishing something. That would be prior restraint and is high on the list of no-nos. However, whenever there is a criminal case in the newspaper, all bets are off. A newspaper can cause a mistrial or be subject to suit for libel if they say that a defendant committed a crime. When “Zack” worked for the newspaper, one of the reporters wrote a story about an ongoing rape trial; a really grisly crime. There were four places in the article (not an editorial) where the reporter stated the facts of the case, using the defendant’s name, without using a disclaimer like “allegedly.” Example: “Mr. “Smith” entered the victims room at 3 a.m. and…” I don’t want to get into the details. Well, the accused was acquitted in less than an hour, and he turned and sued the newspaper for libel and won (there were other articles involved as well). Be careful what you write, fellow bloggers/reporters/writers. I don’t think a blogger has ever been held responsible for libel of this nature, but times are a-changin’.
The same theories apply to other things that people frown upon sports figures to do. Maybe it is because the average sports fan is a generally more conservative and more nostalgic person than the average citizen, I don’t know. Michael Phelps was recently caught smoking pot at a house party sometime last fall.* I don’t know too many of the details, because I have been avoiding the story like the plague. So, he was smoking pot (was he smoking it in a cigarette? or was he using a water bong? These seem like important details to people who actually care). I don’t care to engage in a non-sports-related discussion of drug laws, but meh. So, Phelps was mature enough to come out and apologize and admit his mistake. I commend him for that. But a major wag of the finger to Kelloggs, who canceled their endorsement deal. It’s not like their other cartoon spokespeople/covermodels aren’t cracked out enough (Dig’em the Frog? Tony the Tiger? Seriously, would Phelps have driven down the respect we have vested in that group?).
*Yeah, I know. Seems a little strange that this photo only came out now, isn’t it? BTW, I don’t have any real respect for the tabloids’ methods, but they do have an equal right to publish the scum they manage to scrape from the bottom of the barrel of society.
Ditto for gambling… I’m talking about Pete Rose here. He bet on baseball… in favor of his team, when he bet on his team. I can see him getting banned forever, if he had thrown games. But the guy is a freaking legend. He should be just inside the front door of the HoF. Instead, he is forced to write books and make public apologies. There are other players that are banned for the same thing, which are more understandable. Shoeless Joe Jackson bet against the White Sox, who he played for. I’m okay with his ban, because it affected MORE than himself… it effectively deprived his team (along with the other Black Sox) of a chance at a World Series title. However, even Shoeless Joe’s involvement is disputed at this late date. Without any kind of certainty here, the default should be to NOT ban, rather than ban.
I guess what I am saying here is that I really couldn’t care less about what athletes do off the field. If an athlete beats his wife or kills someone drunk driving, they should answer for it in court. However, I really couldn’t care less what sports star is doing after dark with what female celebrity (or not doing with a female celebrity, if you catch my drift). Remember in 1999, when the world was shocked (shocked, I tell you) when former major leaguer Billy Bean came out of the closet with is book, Going the Other Way.* Why should it even matter who players are seeing after the lights go down on the field? Bean is blunt about how strong that barrier remains — he doesn’t foresee any professional baseball player coming out and continuing to play in the near future, a view that has caused some critics to question his commitment to encouraging people to come out. (link) But, for some it does matter who is seeing who and what they are doing.
*The only other baseball player to have come out of the closet after retirement is the now-deceased Glenn Burke. Burke was unique because he was “out” while he was playing, albeit only to his manager and teammates. He didn’t have many at-bats; there were only five hundred and some in his career. Let’s be honest for a minute. Leaving aside the debate about homosexuality’s origins for a second, does anyone really think that in the history of baseball there have been only two gay players? Is the stigma so much that it has kept that many players from coming “out?”A quote from Bean about his book: “This book is not a sad story about a victim of homophobia, or baseball mistreating me. It’s about what it’s like to have to live in the closet and to try to realize a dream under those restrictions.”
If a player did take steroids, good for them. They were willing to put the game before their body. That’s devotion (note the sarcasm). I don’t agree with steroid use, but I detest the righteous indignation so many people feel toward those who used them. Mark McGuire should have been a first-ballot HoFer. Instead, he is just barely above not being on the ballot the next year. Everyone knew he was on steroids, yet everyone was shocked when Canseco accused him. Shocked. Seriously. It was only a real surprise to Congress and casual/fair weather fans. Come on people. Grow up and give credit where credit is due.
These people are amazing ballplayers. What you (or you, or you, or I) view as a bad decision shouldn’t keep them out of the Hall… or cause us to publicly or privately condemn them.